Huffpost Politics

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Philip Slater Headshot

The Real Meaning of "Family Values"

Posted: Updated:

"Family Values" is one of the buzzwords of the radical right -- especially the religious right, and the mainstream media regularly parrot the phrase as if it meant something.

But what does it really mean? One would expect that such a phrase would, at the very least, mean keeping families together. Yet "Family Values" advocates were ardent supporters of immigration raids that broke up families and separated small children from their mothers.

"Family Values" advocates were also unrelenting in their insistence that welfare mothers be forced to work, even when this meant mothers putting in late hours at low-paying jobs with long and difficult commutes, giving them no choice but to leave their children with unsuitable relatives, neighbors, and friends. When this has led to abuses, the mothers are sometimes imprisoned and their children taken from them.

"Family Values" advocates are also avid supporters of bombing and invading other countries, and United States military adventures during the past half century have fractured hundreds of thousands of families over six continents. Not just in the countries bombed or invaded, but also here at home. Husbands and fathers who survive combat often return physically incapacitated, or psychologically damaged by the atrocities they've witnessed or have been involved in, leaving them unsuited for civilian life. "Family Values" enthusiasts also tend to be unsympathetic to Post Traumatic Stress Victims, who often are not only denied treatment but forced to return to active duty.

"Family Values" fans tend to be pro-war. Yet more families are wrecked by war than by any other cause.

But if "Family Values" doesn't mean keeping families together, shouldn't it mean being supportive of growing children? Clearly not. We've seen already how children are given short shrift when it comes to immigration, war, and welfare reform. And of course, "Family Values" advocates are up in arms whenever anyone suggests creating a health care system that would actually safeguard the health of children rather than merely filling the coffers of drug and insurance companies.

Supporting education and paying decent salaries to teachers is also opposed by "Family Values" advocates. They want children only to be taught rigid conformity by rigid disciplinarians. And as to content, they want it limited to "The Basics," which is Tory-speak for anything that can be taught by rote -- anything that will kill a child's natural curiosity and prevent her from learning to think for herself.

"Family Values" advocates also believe in kids being beaten, preferably with paddles, despite mountains of evidence showing that physical punishment teaches fear, not morality, and produces violence-prone adults. Against this evidence "Family Values" devotees oppose the Bible. Deuteronomy xxi, 18-21 says, in fact, that stubborn children should be stoned to death.

"Family Values" advocates are also resolute in their opposition to family planning and abortion. They want to populate the world with unwanted children and unmarried mothers. This is supposedly about the "sanctity of life" in the womb, but in fact "Family Values" proponents are quite comfortable with slaughtering pregnant women in war situations. In the 1980s they backed the Nicaraguan Contras, whose favorite practice was bayoneting pregnant women (this, too, has Old Testament support, in Kings II, xv, 16). And in Iraq, the "Family Values"-backed war let four incubator babies die recently because it was felt that cutting electricity to the town's hospital might flush out a few insurgents.

But if "Family Values" advocates don't care about keeping families together and don't seem to like children much, what is it they're advocating?

The positions taken by "Family Values" advocates have one consistent result -- they make life miserable for women. Whether being separated from the children they want and love, or being prevented from caring for them, or being forced to bear children they don't want and may be unable and care for, or seeing their children slaughtered, or their husbands maimed, or being unable to give their children the education and health care they need, life for women wherever "Family Values" are espoused is likely to be wretched.

We can only conclude, then, from the behavior of those who espouse them, that "Family Values" has nothing whatever to do with supporting families, but is merely a code phrase for the oppression and subjugation of women.